The FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on annual regulatory fees was published in the Federal Register this week, setting the comment date in that proceeding as November 22, with reply comments due December 23. As we wrote when the FCC’s fee decision for 2019 fees was released, this Further Notice is examining a number of issues. For broadcasters, there are two directly relevant issues. First, there is a question as to whether there should be some reduction of the regulatory fees for VHF television stations and, if so, what that reduction should be. The FCC this year moved to basing regulatory fees for a TV station on its estimated population coverage. Some VHF station owners have argued that, because VHF stations are subject to much more interference and have worse building penetration than do UHF stations, their predicted coverage does not accurately reflect their potential audience as it may for UHF stations, and thus the do not receive the same benefits from their license and the associated regulation as does a UHF station. The Further Notice seeks comment on this issue.
The second issue is whether stations involved in the FCC’s incubator program (about which we wrote here) should receive pay lower fees in order to promote the economic success of these stations owned by new broadcast owners. The hope is that this program will encourage broadcast ownership diversity. While organizations advocating for broadcast diversity have supported this idea, the recent 3rd Circuit decision overturning the FCC’s recent ownership rules and remanding them to the FCC for further consideration (see our article here) has put the incubator program on hold for the time being. Nevertheless, interested parties can file on this question and on the issue of a reduction in fees for VHF stations, by the November 22 deadline.